Back in 2008, myself and a couple of young Liberals launched “Edspedia.ca“, a mock website to poke fun at some eyebrow raising travel expenses by members of the Ed Stelmach cabinet. The list included Mark Norris’ $50,000 Vegas vacation, and Rod Stevens Hawaiian stop-over to “study their gambling system”.
If I hadn’t received a cheerful letter from the Expedia lawyers back in 2008, now would be a good time to launch “Redspedia.ca”, because Alison Redford is facing a barrage of criticism over her travel expenses.
The controversy started with a $45,000 flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones), and has since spread. The latest revelation is that Redford invited along a friend of her daughter’s on a few government trips. Redford has said that “upon reflection” this wasn’t an appropriate use of taxpayer funded dollars, to which taxpayers have responded with a collective “duh”. For Redford, this is yet another scandal she has no one to blame for but herself.
After what happened with online polls in Alberta last election, I feel guilty even quoting numbers here, but Leger has the PCs free falling to 25% support – 13 points back of the Wildrose Party. What’s most interesting about these numbers is not the Wildrose lead, but that the Liberals and NDP are both up substantially since the last round of polling, and since the last election. Clearly, many Alberta progressives who lent Redford their vote in 2012 are feeling burned.
Whether or not they go back to her in 2016 remains to be seen. But with each passing scandal, asking them to do just that will become a more and more daunting proposition.
When a new narrative sets in, it’s oh so easy to forget the old narrative. But as I compared this weekend’s Liberal Party convention to the last time Liberals gathered, I was reminded at how quickly the story has changed.
First, let’s flash back to January 2012. Newt Gingrich was alive and well in the Republican presidential race, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana to most of us, and our biggest concern about Rob Ford was that he sometimes texted while driving. A few people worried about the Mayan Doomsday, but the larger concern for Liberals gathered in Ottawa was not the end of the world, but the end of the Liberal Party. Nearly every article about that convention speculated about the party’s demise, and the very real possibility they could be squeezed out of existence by the Conservatives and NDP.
It wasn’t farfetched. It had happened in the UK and in several provinces, and while the “Nycole Turmel bump” had the Liberals showing signs of life, the leadership picture was murky, at best. Bob Rae had agreed not to run for leader, but was definitely thinking about it, leaving a lot of Liberals uneasy. Not that the alternatives were setting the world on fire – David McGuinty or Denis Coderre, anyone? While it feels like we’ve been living in Trudeaumania forever, fewer than 1 in 7 people thought he’d actually run for leader on a straw poll I posted on my website that winter.
I wouldn’t call the mood bleak at the 2012 convention, but there was definitely a lot of trepidation and nervousness.
Flash forward two years and the picture is unrecognizable. The Liberal Party is coming off its best fundraising quarter ever, and candidates are lining up for hotly contested nominations. For the first time in 50 years, there wasn’t a whisper of leadership speculation in convention hospitality suites. The fact that those same suites contained late night poutine bars is certainly a sign these are times of plenty.
This all led to a more energized atmosphere among delegates. I’m sure even Green Party conventions feature speeches describing Elizabeth May as the “next Prime Minister of Canada”, but in candid conversations, even the most optimistic delegates have a sense of realism. Two years ago, there was a lot of talk about “two election strategies” and “catching the NDP”. This time, the focus is squarely on making Justin Trudeau Prime Minister on October 19th, 2015 (or earlier).
That may still be an overreach. But it serves as a reminder of how quickly things have changed in Liberal land, and the type of game changer Trudeau has been.
“In 2006, after the Liberal ‘decade of darkness,’ we took action to rebuild Canada’s Armed Forces.”
October 2010: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is scrambling to contain an ever-widening scandal in which officials deliberately tried to ruin the reputation of outspoken military veterans“
March 2012: Veterans consider suing MP accused of dozing off
April 2012: Veterans concerned over cuts to case workers
April 9, 2013: Danger pay reduced for Canadian troops in Afghanistan
April 21, 2013: Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan ordered to return danger pay
February 11, 2014: “The Defence Department was effectively stripped today of more than $3 billion it had planned to spend on major new military purchases in the near future, in what amounts to the second major setback it’s faced in as many weeks.”
February 16, 2014: Former general Andrew Leslie accuses Tories of smear over moving expenses
By design, Tuesday’s budget was a non-event. The public’s eyes are on Sochi, and the pundits’ eyes are on next year’s budget. So, it should not be surprising that it was the post-budget fallout that grabbed the most headlines, when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty mused that the Tories central 2011 campaign promise of income splitting might not actually be in next year’s budget.
We can debate the merits of income splitting (and this ensures we will), but what I find most shocking about this is that we appear to have the first public rift between Stephen Harper and the only Finance Minister he has ever known. This comes on the heels Cabinet feuds, leadership jockeying, resignation speculation, and backbench revolts. On Monday, the Toronto Star was reporting hourly leaks about Conservative re-election strategy.
By themselves, none of these stories are especially noteworthy. Leadership aspirants are always jockeying for position in Ottawa, and disgruntled party members will flip anything remotely interesting to the media. Despite his candid musings, Stephen Harper’s Finance Minister has caused him a lot fewer headaches than Jean Chretien’s.
But the one thing everyone could agree on about the Harper government is that they were always united and on message. Critics would say this is because of a dictatorial style of leadership, but even they would concede it’s been effective. Now, after 8 years in power, this government is starting to look very much like a government which has been in power for 8 years. And that has got to be worrisome for Stephen Harper.
We’ve all heard the jokes.
When Calgary was hit with flooding in 2005, the Calgary Herald ran a delicious cartoon showing a giant ark being loaded up at the Stampede grounds, and Noah lamenting that, despite his instructions to rescue 2 of each kind, he couldn’t find a second Liberal.
It’s been 46 years since the Liberals won a seat in Calgary, meaning local grits are 0 for their last 83. However, loss number 83 in that streak – Harvey Locke’s near miss in the 2012 Calgary Centre by-election – has given Liberals hope. Obviously, a lot of that is because of Justin Trudeau.
Given the frequent burning of Pierre Trudeau effigies on Nose Hill, it’s easy to forget the last Liberal victory in Calgary came during the original round of Trudeaumania. And, while Trudeaumania II has been tempered by memories of the NEP, Justin has been doing everything right, making frequent trips to Alberta, and earning praise by getting dirty and doing real work rather than cheap photo ops after last year’s devastating floods. More importantly, he has come out in favour of the Keystone Pipeline, positioning himself as the most pro-oilpatch friendly leader in his party’s history.
So, while the odds are still long, talking about a Liberal win in Calgary has moved from the Fantasy genre to Science Fiction - far fetched, but possible without breaking any of our universe’s physical laws.
Not surprisingly, Calgary Centre is seen as the primary target. Locke came within just over 1,000 votes in the by-election, and there’s been speculation of Naheed Nenshi’s chief of staff, Chima Nkemdirim, running in 2015. That speculation is likely to grow following the announcement of Nkemdirim as a guest speaker at the upcoming LPC convention.
The new riding boundaries should also work in the Liberals’ favour. Lopped off of Centre is the affluent western part of the riding where the CPC earned 65% of the vote last election, replaced with a chunk of polls where they were held to 43%. Taken together, the Conservatives picked up 55% of the vote in the new Calgary Centre in 2011. Those type of numbers shouldn’t make Harper sweat, but recent polls have the Conservatives down by an average of 15 points across Alberta, opening up the very real possibility of an upset if the “anybody but” vote coalesces behind a single progressive candidate. Nkemdirim certainly gives the Liberals a good chance to rally the “Nenshi coalition” under one banner.
So expect to read a lot about Calgary Centre next year. However, equally deserving of attention is Calgary Confederation. On paper, Confederation is actually the most vulnerable of the new Calgary ridings – in 2011, the Tory vote in the polls that now make up the riding was 52%, lower than in the new Centre. Indeed, Confederation is a gift from the boundaries commission gods to Liberals in Calgary (perhaps given out of pity). Confederation brings together the provincial riding of Calgary Mountainview, dominated by Liberal David Swann, with the University of Calgary campus – still a breeding ground for lefties, despite the best efforts of professors Flanagan, Morton, and the rest of the Calgary School. Throw in the fact that there is no incumbent Conservative MP, and the riding looks ripe for the taking.
The likely Liberal candidate in Confederation is 30-year old lawyer Matt Grant, a former EA to Liberal MLAs Craig Cheffins and Kent Hehr, and the son-in-law of former Mayor Al Duerr. None of that screams “star candidate”, but I got to know Matt quite well during our young Liberals days, and he’s one of the hardest working Liberals I’ve met. From what I’ve seen over the years, the biggest progressive success stories in Alberta are usually born out of candidates going door to door until their knuckles bleed, rather than holding out hope on big names. Mix that in with one of the most impressive and tech-savvy campaign teams ever assembled in Calgary, and you’ve got all the ingredients for an upset.
I use the term upset, because the Tories are still very much the favourites in Centre and Confederation (or Skyview for that matter, another riding opposition parties should not ignore). Even if the Conservative vote falls to the 40% range in these ridings, it would take a concerted effort to wrestle these seats away, and the left has a frustrating record of splitting the few progressive votes which exist in Alberta. Look no further than Joan Crockett winning the Calgary Centre by-election with 37% of the vote.
However, at the very least, the Conservatives will need to spend time and resources fighting for seats in their own backyard. And maybe, just maybe, sometime next year Calgary will send a Liberal MP to Ottawa for the first time in nearly 50 years.
It’s rare that something happens in Ottawa that truly surprises everyone. Despite having spent the last year talking about the senate over and over again, it’s safe to say very few saw this coming:
Trudeau leads on Senate Reform: Liberal Leader takes concrete action to remove partisanship and patronage from the Senate
OTTAWA – The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement:
“Canadians expect their leaders to be open and honest with them, and they expect us to come forward with practical solutions that address problems directly. The Senate, through extreme patronage and partisanship, has become an institution that poorly serves the interests of Canadians.
“Paired with patronage, the pervasive issue of partisanship and control in the Senate is a deeply negative force. We need immediate action to address this. That is why, as of today, the National Liberal Caucus will only include elected Members of Parliament, and not Senators. This action will immediately mean that each of the 32 current Liberal Senators will become independent of the Liberal Caucus.
Yes, you read that right. Justin Trudeau just blew up the Senate, in a political masterstroke.
By cutting all ties to the Senate, Trudeau inoculates himself against the Auditor General’s upcoming report on Senate expenses, and leaves Stephen Harper as the last defender of a partisan upper chamber – an awkward position for the man many believed would bring about overdue reform. This gives Trudeau the same footing to criticize the Senate the NDP has enjoyed for years. Perhaps even stronger footing, since Trudeau’s solution of a non-partisan Senate would not require a constitutional amendment, unlike Mulcair’s plans for abolition. Just like that, the NDP has been neutralized on one of its traditional wedge issues.
More important than the issue itself, is what it says about Trudeau. As hot a topic as Senate reform is in political science lectures, few Canadians will base their vote on this issue. What they will base it on is their perceptions of the party leaders, and Trudeau can now use this issue to define himself for voters. It plays to his image as an agent of change who will walk into Ottawa and shake up the way politics is done. Given how disillusioned voters are with the status quo, that’s exactly where you want to be positioned.
Moreover, this move just screams “strong leader”. Already, Liberal press releases are asking why Stephen Harper lacks the strength and judgment to follow Trudeau’s lead, no doubt a dig at the Tory tune comparing Harper’s “strong leadership” to Trudeau’s “lack of judgment”.
Like any bold move, there are risks, but I’d argue those have been overblown. It will rub some party stalwarts the wrong way, but a lot of Senators won’t miss having to shuck tickets for Liberal fundraisers. Yes, there may come a day when Prime Minister Trudeau longs for a rubber stamp Senate. However it seems unlikely the Senate will survive in its current form long enough for Trudeau to ever appoint back a Liberal majority. Having an uncooperative Conservative Senate might actually provide Trudeau with a good foil – remember how Stephen Harper loved to complain about the “unelected Liberal Senate” holding up key pieces of legislation? Those very same talking points are now coming to a Liberal fundraising letter near you!
In the end, what stands out is that this was a case of action. If Trudeau had promised a non-partisan senate, no one would have paid it any attention. Seriously, try to find me 5 people who remember Michael Ignatieff’s very impressive democratic reform platform from the last election. Voters respond to actions rather than promises, and in one morning Trudeau did more to advance the case of Senate reform as the leader of the third party than Stephen Harper has done in 8 years as Prime Minister.
Today marks the 8th anniversary of Stephen Harper’s election as Prime Minister. At the time, a lot of Liberals figured they could turn him into Joe Clark after a quick leadership change. Yet, by this time next year, Harper will have passed Louis St. Laurent, Robert Borden, and Brian Mulroney, to become the 6th longest serving Prime Minister in Canadian history – and most succesful conservative in over a century.
That’s the good news. The bad news for Harper is that it’s hard to fight the “time for a change” bug. Trudeau and King both lost elections after around a decade in power, and Chretien’s own party forced him out of office. Usually, you only get a fourth term if voters don’t trust the other guy and, from where I sit, there are two fairly impressive “other guys” with their sights set on 24 Sussex.
That said, no one expected Harper to last 8 years, so we would all be foolish to under-estimate him.
I know it’s still January, but we have an early contender for the most awesome political story of 2014:
Tory MP raising money to fight bulb ban her party enacted
OTTAWA — A Conservative MP’s campaign against her own government’s ban of incandescent light bulbs is directing the donations it receives to a Conservative riding association and giving contributors tax receipts for political contributions.
Renfrew — Nipissing — Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant is leading the campaign against the Conservative government’s policy to phase out traditional light bulbs beginning this month.
The website, stopthelightbulbban.ca, solicits donations to the cause of saving traditional bulbs.
Yes, you heard that right. Cheryl Gallant is asking people to donate money to a Conservative riding association…to fight a Conservative Party policy.
I know this is going to be met with ridicule by some, but Gallant may just have stumbled upon a brilliant fundraising tactic for the Tories. For too long they’ve been limiting their pool of donors to individuals who agree with them, thereby overlooking the every growing number of Canadians who can’t stand what the Harper government has done.
So keep your eyes open for future fundraising campaigns such as: “Donate $5 to help restore the long-form Census!” and “Fight the appointment of unelected Senators – send us $90,000 today!“.